I want to publish an open source game, but I want to retain all copyrights on the used characters.

A use case would be that another party downloads the code and makes a new game with it, but the other party is not allowed to name the game "Captain Holetooth" or use the character art from the original game.

Can you give me advice on which license I need to apply?
I was looking into Apache 2.0, but I'm not sure if it is the right choice.

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  • Not open source them? – BlueDogRanch Mar 16 '17 at 16:42
  • Yes, the characters need to be copyrighted. Its like with Android: It is open source, but you can't just publish it again and call it "Android". – Hirnbix Mar 16 '17 at 19:08
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    Have you considered open-sourcing just the game engine, but not the assets? That way, you avoid any confusion about what parts are free and what parts are not. – amon Mar 17 '17 at 9:56
  • The game engine "Godot" is already open source. I guess I could copyright all image files, then I should be safe right? Where would I put these copyright notices? – Hirnbix Mar 17 '17 at 13:20

The only way I know to protect further character names or imagery in an open source game (or for any open source project) would be to use trademarks e.g. if you explicitly mention that the names and images are trademarked by you (and eventually register all of them), then you will enjoy this protection for your names and marks.

It is common for several licenses such as the Apache and BSD licenses to contain some explicit language about non-usage of names and non-endorsement but to the best of my knowledge this is not necessary because these licenses do not grant rights to reuse these names.

It is common for several open source projects (and foundations) to register their names and marks, such as GNOME which allowed to protect the IMHO abusive reuse attempt by Groupon, or Eclipse that also provides detailed guidelines for limited and proper reuse. Linux distributors such as Ubuntu and Red Hat also use trademark protections in addition to the (eventually complex) FOSS licensing of their distributions. In these later cases, redistributing a whole distro may be OK from an open source license standpoint but may not be OK from a trademark standpoint (in which case a solution is to remove the marks and graphics like CentOS did with Red Hat distros).

So in recap, the trademark protection and the free and open source licensing protection are orthogonal and both can apply and both are commonly used in conjunction by both commercially-backed FOSS projects and purely community-driven projects.

Since trademarks themselves are beyond the scope of most open source licenses, you should seek legal help and do some research to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve there. God speed!

  • Thanks Philippe for the elaboration. I'm going to digest this information and think a little more about what I need. – Hirnbix Mar 17 '17 at 13:27
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    Another example of this is IceCat, which is Mozilla Firefox with all trademarks removed: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_IceCat – Gaurav Mar 17 '17 at 21:52
  • Right, trademark is the answer. That's what I did for my jf logo on the upper-left corner of forkosh.com (you can see the little circled R there). And you can also (not instead of) copyright the image using a Form-VA (visual arts) copyright. I did both, figuring "it couldn't hurt". And copyrights (at the time) cost about $40 to register, whereas trademarks were $350 plus another $100 in the fifth year after initial registration (I'm not sure why they require that followup paperwork, rather than just asking for all the money they want up-front). P.S. I did it all w/o a lawyer – John Forkosh Mar 17 '17 at 22:32
  • @JohnForkosh why not adding this as your own answer? – Philippe Ombredanne Mar 18 '17 at 7:04

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